COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Winless since early October, Nebraska hasn’t abandoned hopes of salvaging a season that has failed to live up to expectations.
The Cornhuskers were ranked No. 24 to start the season and opened with a win over South Alabama before blowing a 17-point lead in a loss at Colorado. Nebraska was still 4-2 after squeezing past Northwestern on Oct. 5 before four straight defeats took the air out of Scott Frost’s second year as head coach.
All is not lost. If Nebraska (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) beats Maryland on Saturday and upsets Iowa at home next week, a bowl bid is sure to follow.
“It’s a great setup,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said.
Frost understands the situation, but after watching the Cornhuskers stumble week after week, he’s reluctant to even mention the word “bowl.”
“You guys do plenty of talking about those things for us,” Frost said. “We just need to win. That’s it.”
Maryland (3-7, 1-6) has endured a similarly disappointing season under first-year coach Michael Locksley. The Terrapins won two straight at the outset to earn a No. 21 ranking but have since lost seven of eight, including the last five in a row.
All that’s left for the Terrapins to play for is pride and on behalf of the team’s seniors in their final home game.
“It's about sending our seniors out the right way,” Locksley said. “We've got some guys that have been through a lot during their Maryland football careers here.”
To say the least. The fifth-year seniors have played under three different head coaches (Randy Edsall, DJ Durkin, Locksley) and two interim head coaches (Locksley and Matt Canada).
Worse, they endured the death of a teammate. Offensive lineman Jordan McNair died on June 13, 2018, 15 days after collapsing during an offseason team workout.
All those coaches, McNair’s death and five straight losing seasons is quite a bit to handle.
“For these guys to be still standing and still really proud of wearing the Maryland colors, fighting every day and coming off practice, having a positive impact on the younger players in our program, it speaks volumes to the character of these kids,” Locksley said.
Some other things to know about Saturday’s Nebraska-Maryland matchup:
CHANGE THE CULTURE
Frost and Locksley are trying to turn around the mindset of teams that have seemingly forgot how it feels to win.
“In some ways, winning is a habit and losing is a habit,” Frost said. “I think there are few too many guys on our team who are conditioned to not win. We need to flip that and make sure winning is a habit. To do that, you have to get one, and it’s been too many weeks since we’ve gotten one.”
Ditto for Maryland.
“It starts with playing with the great effort and the mentality that you need to play with,” Locksley said. “I just think we've been really inconsistent.”
This will be Nebraska’s first road game at Maryland, and now the Cornhuskers have played in every Big Ten stadium.
It’s also Nebraska’s first game in Maryland, making this the 33rd state in which the Cornhuskers have played a football game
“Beautiful area,” said Frost, who took Central Florida to the stadium in 2017.
Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez threw for 220 yards and a touchdown last week against Wisconsin and ran for 89 yards and a score.
Maryland will shuffle two, maybe three quarterbacks, on Saturday. Josh Jackson and Tyrrell Pigrome get most of the snaps, but Locksley has also installed a package for highly touted freshman Lance LeGendre.
Maryland defensive lineman Brett Kulka will be playing in his 48th game on Saturday — and the last at home.
The fifth-year senior got to play in one bowl game, but that won’t be his most vivid memory when he looks back on his career with the Terrapins.
“It's the relationships you build here,” Kulka said. “I've seen a lot of faces come through and I've made a lot of friends. The grind that you go through as a college athlete is something you can share with your teammates.”